The CSR Director’s Office as Insurgency HQ

In the second of a series of installments about the next generation of CSR management, Gregory Unruh offers tips for recruiting allies in support of the sustainability insurgency.

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Leading Sustainable Organizations

Corporate adoption of sustainable business practices is essential to a strong market environment and an enduring society. What does it mean to become a sustainable business and what steps must leaders take to integrate sustainability into their organization?
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To create value, social intelligence must be mobilized. Insurgent Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) directors do so by cultivating a network of internal allies — call them social intrapreneurs — that are motivated to insert social intelligence into their planning and decision-making activities. The CSR Director’s office becomes a resource and coordinating point for these independent actions. I want to reiterate that I am not suggesting that the CSR office operate in an insurrectionary way. To succeed, CSR managers must have buy-in at the top; most of their work is, in fact, translating leadership’s overall sustainability strategy into employee decision making.

Stakeholder engagement is a basic CSR function, and most sustainability directors are adept at mapping external constituencies and their interests. Sustainability insurgents leverage this skill, but turn it inward, using it to identify sponsors and allies within their company who understand the value of social intelligence. I have found that a simple Sustainability Behavioral Matrix, shown in Figure 1, is an effective way to organize the analysis.

Two measures are used to classify managers. The horizontal axis quantifies CSR Action: the degree to which someone is already integrating social intelligence into their decision making. The vertical axis, in contrast, quantifies CSR Awareness: a measure of how knowledgeable an employee is about CSR issues in general but also — perhaps more important — how in sync they are with the company’s overall CSR strategy and goals.

By dividing each axis in half, we identify four types of CSR behavior. The lower left is populated with the Skeptics: managers who do not believe in the value of CSR and take no action to support the company’s CSR effort. The upper left are the Slackers: managers who believe in the value of CSR, support the company’s strategy and goals, but for any number of reasons are not taking actions to incorporate social intelligence into their responsibilities. The lower right are the Sleepers: managers who actually take social intelligence into consideration, but who have not yet made the connection between their efforts and the company’s larger CSR strategy. And finally, in the upper right, are the Stars: managers who understand the value of social intelligence in their business, recognize how it fits into the company’s CSR strategy and actively incorporate it into their activities.

Sustainability Behavioral Matrix

View Exhibit

Identifying and classifying employees is both science and art and requires networking in the organization. For example, Stanley Litow, vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs at IBM, is well known for knocking on office doors to gauge employee interest and encourage participation in IBM’s strategic CSR initiatives. Encounters like these can provide the insights needed to classify employees.

Stars and skeptics are often the easiest to recognize. Stars are driven by their personal values and will actively call attention to their concerns in meetings and planning discussions. Likewise, skeptics often self-identify through their sometimes vocal criticism of sustainability initiatives. Care is needed, however, because there are also passive skeptics who will quietly withhold support from, or even subvert, sustainability efforts. Slackers are more difficult to identify because there may be no outward sign of their preferences. They can often be drawn out, however, by offering them opportunities to join CSR initiatives such as facility greening teams or community service events. Sleepers usually need active outreach, something that can be done through internal company communications and, like IBM’s Stanley Litow, good, old-fashioned knocking on doors.

Insurgent sustainability directors have a special responsibility when it comes to the slackers and skeptics in the organization. In the words of one sustainability executive interviewed for this project, “I frankly don’t believe there are slackers and skeptics. I view those as my failure to demonstrate personal and business value — not their failure to engage.” Insurgent directors need to become detectives and learn how potential allies may be motivated, especially in terms of what incentive frameworks they manage and are managed to. This understanding is vital in explaining the value of sustainability initiatives in a language — a sustainability dialect — that is intelligible for them.

With the behavioral matrix as a guide, managers will have a pretty good sense of likely candidates for further outreach. Once allies have been identified, insurgent CSR managers can engage them through a four-phase mobilization framework, which I’ll present and discuss in the next blog in this series.

NOTE: Please comment on the content of these posts and add your own experiences. I will be reading all the posted comments and will be engaging in the discussions, so please get involved and join the conversation.


Leading Sustainable Organizations

Corporate adoption of sustainable business practices is essential to a strong market environment and an enduring society. What does it mean to become a sustainable business and what steps must leaders take to integrate sustainability into their organization?
See All Articles in This Section

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Comments (2)
Gregory Unruh
Thanks for the comment Frederik. You are right that part of the insurgents work is to shift the organizational culture away from skepticism and integrated reporting can help do so. In coming installments I will discuss the process of ACCULTURATION which seeks to internalize sustainability thinking into the organizational culture. Integrated reporting is one tool for doing so, placing non-financial performance measures side-by-side with traditional financial reporting.
Frederik Schjødt Truelsen
Thanks for the article. The point being; that you should be aware of where to allocate your energy internally in the organization. 

Integrated Reporting  (CDSB) looks especially promising in regards to locate all communication into one formal channel, which cannot be avoided and all the insurgents will experience fewer skeptics and slackers the following year. 

I see IR as one of the most essential pillars in sustainability at the moment.